Barcelona prepare title celebrations ahead of Madrid derby

The Catalans need to beat Athletic Bilbao in their last visit to the old San Mames stadium and hope Real lose out to Atletico in the capital clash for the first time since 1999

By Ben Hayward

Barcelona will win La Liga on Saturday if they can beat Athletic Bilbao at San Mames and rivals Real Madrid lose in their derby clash against Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon.

Both Barca and Madrid are reeling from their disappointing defeats at Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, respectively, in the Champions League this week, but the Catalans can cheer up their frustrated fans by clinching the Primera Division title tonight.

However, it is not solely in their hands. Barca must beat Athletic in what will be the Blaugrana‘s last-ever game at the old San Mames stadium, but also hope Atletico can defeat Real in the Madrid derby – and that hasn’t happened since 1999.

Many of Barcelona’s players would rather win La Liga in front of their own fans. “Last time we won it away from home [at Levante in 2010-11] and this year it would be nice to win it at home so we can celebrate with our supporters,” Adriano said just last week.

However, a title triumph on Saturday would represent a big boost after the 4-0 defeat at Bayern on Tuesday and coach Tito Vilanova (who on Friday gave his first press conference since returning from cancer treatment in New York last month) says he hopes to win it sooner rather than later. “This a league we are fighting for against Real Madrid and I want to win it as soon as possible,” he revealed. It would also be his first trophy as Barca boss after taking over from Pep Guardiola in the summer.

Barcelona will need to better last season’s 2-2 draw at San Mames to have any chance of claiming the title, but must wait to see how Madrid get on in the capital clash at Atletico before the celebrations can begin.

By the end of that match, Barcelona will already be on the plane back to the Catalan capital, although they will be kept informed of events at the Calderon by the captain and the cabin crew.

Atletico have failed to beat Madrid in a competitive match since 1999, but Diego Simeone’s side may have their best chance for some time as Cristiano Ronaldo has been ruled out with a muscle injury and Jose Mourinho will have more than one eye on Tuesday night’s Champions League semi-final second leg at home to Dortmund (after the first match was won 4-1 by the Germans on Wednesday).

Nevertheless, assistant Aitor Karanka claimed on Friday that Real would work hard to preserve their amazing derby record. “[Atletico] are a team who haven’t beaten us for many years, but they are strong at home, we are fighting them for second place and it is the city’s derby – we will have to play with great intensity,” he told the media.

Atletico celebrated their 110th birthday on Friday and the capital club will hope to mark that anniversary with a first derby success this millennium. Simeone’s side are currently third, six points behind Mourinho’s men. “Let’s hope we can finish second,” Koke said on Friday, while captain Gabi added: “We have been waiting for 14 years to win the derby – it is a very special game and we are desperate to win it.”

Atletico also meet Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey at the Santiago Bernabeu next month.

If Barcelona beat Athletic and Madrid win or draw at Atletico, the Catalans will have to wait until next weekend’s game at home to Betis for their next chance to be crowned champions. Vilanova’s side currently lead Madrid by 13 points with six rounds of La Liga remaining, but Madrid edge out the Blaugrana on the head-to-head record (if the sides are level) after claiming a win and a draw from this season’s two Clasico clashes in the Primera Division.

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